When the chaos of the Roman streets becomes overwhelming, there are plenty of day trips from Rome that offer the perfect opportunity for relaxation. Journey into your childhood imaginings at the monster park of Bomarzo, explore Etruscan necropoli, or stroll the expansive gardens of a 15th century villa filled with extraordinary fountains, all in under 2 hours’ drive.
1.5 hours driving from Rome
The wooded valley which hosts the Parco dei Mostri, or the Park of Monsters, once inspired fearful legends amongst the villagers in the town above. is filled with larger-than-life mythical creatures and characters. Visitors entering the park are greeted by a turtle roughly the size of a small house. The path winds through the forest, as visitors are confronted in turns by sphinxes, giants, dragons, and an orc, all carved from natural rock and coated with creeping moss, seeming to have grown out of the lush greenery like overgrown plants. The highlight of the park is the “mouth of hell,” where visitors can enter an orc’s mouth and take a seat on the picnic table inside.
The Park of Monsters was conceived and commissioned by a grieving Prince Orsini, who dedicated the park to his late wife. It was constructed by architect Pirro Ligorio, also who contributed to the construction of Saint Peter’s Basilica after Michelangelo’s death. The surrealistic nature of the bizarre park attracted artists such as Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali, who were inspired by their time wandering the grounds.
The Park of Monsters is open from 8:30AM to 7:00PM year round. Tickets are 10 euros for adults and 8 euros for children. Take a day to stroll through the park and explore the medieval city that towers over the park on a cake-shaped rise.
30-40 minutes driving from Rome
While Castelli Romani is increasingly popular with tourists, it’s mainly frequented by Romans escaping for a tranquil Sunday lunch far from the chaos of the big city. The rolling volcanic hills are dotted with lakes and tiny villages, such as Nemi, which is famous for fragoline: tiny wild strawberries which are served on tarts with cream. The nearby town of Ariccia has a whole assortment of fraschette, restaurants which have traditionally served vast portions of Roman favorites at low prices. The sweet bubbly wine known as Romanella originates here, and while it is pretty much a headache in a bottle, I can never resist more than one glass. Ariccia is most well known for the slow roasted pork so well loved by meat eaters, called Porchetta. Recent years have seen the commercialization of Ariccia, and we prefer Le Fratte Ignoranti with its spectacular view of Lago Albano, delicious grilled vegetables, and abundant portions of pasta.
45 minutes driving from Rome
The Etruscan Necropolises are a fascinating window into the past. The Etruscans created the first urban civilization in Italy, existing long before the Romans, with the carefully planned construction of the Banditaccia necropolis beginning around 9 BC. The city-like necropolis is filled with various tombs, the most impressive of which are large round mounds overgrown with tall grass. If you’re feeling adventurous you can slip inside of one. The necropolis in Cerveteri, as well as one in nearby Tarquinia, are also UNESCO world heritage sites.
Tickets cost € 6,00, € 8,00 if you also want to see the museum. The necropolis is open from 8:30AM to 6:30PM Tuesday to Sunday.
Around one hour and 20 minutes by car.
The Gardens of Ninfa are a fairy-tale oasis built on top of a ruined city, now overgrown with roses and moss, and obscured by vast foliage. In the gardens there are 19 varieties of Magnolia, tropical avocado plants, South American gunnera, bamboo, banana trees, a rock garden, and over 100 species of birds. The garden is criss-crossed by a river which shifts from rich royal blue to brilliant emerald green, towering trees of strange proportions, and enormous exotic flowers in every color imaginable. The plants range from the commonplace to the rare and exotic, and are labelled fastidiously with their names and origins. The contrasts of this fairyland are utterly unreal, as tiny roses stretch across crumbling archways right across from an immense forest of bamboo.
In order to preserve the gardens, visits are limited to the first Saturday and Sunday of each month from April to October, the third Sunday in April, May, and June, and the first Sunday in November. Tickets cost 10Euros a person and cannot be booked in advance.
About one hour driving from Rome.
Villa d’Este is often overlooked in favor of Tivoli’s star attraction: Hadrian’s Villa. I’ve never actually visited the spectacular Imperial palace, having been drawn back time and time again to wander through the wonderland of the Villa d’Este. The villa is best when seen is at night, when the fountains and pools are lit up spectacularly against the backdrop of the lights of Rome. The only downside to the attraction is that it is nearly always full (there are no limits put on tickets) but if you manage to wander away from the crowds you’ll still feel the magic of the dimly lit park.
Villa d’Este is open for nighttime visits on Friday and Saturday during the summer months. Tickets are € 10,00.